At 25, Selena Gomez has faced her share of obstacles and emerged stronger than ever. She tells Katherine Langford—star of the Gomez-produced Netflix series 13 Reasons Why—what she has learned along the way.
KATHERINE LANGFORD: What’s the best part of being a performer in 2018?
SELENA GOMEZ: I feel like it’s become a much safer place to express your concerns or even just to have the right to say, you know, “I’m not sure I feel comfortable in this environment.” On a personal level, having done this since I was seven, it’s probably the most comfortable I’ve ever felt. Even in auditions I feel like I’m way more confident than I would’ve been in the past. I’m not focused on the things that I used to be like, “Do I look old enough? Do I look sexy enough? Do I look cool enough? Am I nice enough, graceful enough?” Those sorts of things would come into my mind, but now I feel a little more liberated.
KL: You became famous in your early teens. Is there anything you feel you missed out on?
SG: I’ve spent probably too much time thinking about how my life could’ve been, so now I try to just have a sense of gratitude for how it is. I’ve never wanted to be the kind of person who’s like, “Oh, I wish I had a different life.” This is just kind of how it worked out for me. I’m at the point where I know the value of my privacy, and I understand how the system works, and once I realized and accepted that part of it I’ve become a little bit more fearless. I view it as a small price to pay for being able to have the life I have now.
KL: This is Harper’s Bazaar, so we need to talk fashion. Are you a shoe girl or a bag girl?
SG: Oh, I’m both, and I always have been. Even when I was younger and wore backpacks, I was so excited to get a Betsey Johnson one. It seemed so much more exciting to me than clothes. And I absolutely love cool shoes. I always felt like what I wore didn’t matter unless I had a cool pair of shoes to go with it.
KL: What was your first major fashion purchase?
SG: A Louis Vuitton laptop bag right after I got my first big check on my own. I remember being so scared that I was gonna mess it up, and pretending I was some little businesswoman who needed to carry all her important things, even though it was just for my lip gloss and laptop.
KL: You’ve grown into quite the fashion plate. How would you describe your personal style?
SG: Definitely casual. Even if I’m not working out, I look like I’m working out. [Laughs]
KL: You’re the undisputed queen of Insta, of course. How do you draw the line between the public and the private Selena?
SG: I have a complex relationship with Instagram, to say the least. It has given me a voice amid all the noise of people trying to narrate my life for me and allows me to say, “Hey, I’m gonna post this, and this is gonna take care of the 1,200 stories that people think are interesting but actually aren’t, and aren’t even true.” So it empowers me in that way because it’s my words and my voice and my truth. The only thing that worries me is how much value people our age place on social media. It’s an incredible platform, but in a lot of ways it’s given young people, myself included, a false representation of what’s important. So, yeah, it’s a complex relationship. Probably one of my most difficult relationships.
KL: What is a typical Saturday night for you?
SG: It depends. If I’m in the mood for sister time, I’ll be with my sister, Gracie. She’s more mature than me in a lot of ways, and she’s four. [Laughs] If I want to hang out with my friends, I don’t really go to a lot of trendy places, so people know they shouldn’t really invite me to those places ’cause I’m not gonna go. I like going to nice restaurants, but I’m also into Chili’s. I love going to Chili’s and having queso and chips. I also love dancing. I really do. I love looking like a fool with my friends.
KL: How important is your Mexican heritage?
SG: Extremely. I look at myself in the mirror every day and think, “Man, I wish I knew more Spanish.” I’ll never forget when I was doing my TV show [Wizards of Waverly Place]; I think I was 15 or 16. We would do these live tapings every Friday, and one Friday there was this single mother with her four kids. She was Latin, and she came up to me after, crying. Her kids were so excited, but I noticed the mom, so I gave her a hug and asked, “Hey, are you okay?” And she was like, “It’s really incredible for my daughters to see that a Latina woman can be in this position and achieve her dreams, someone who isn’t the typical, you know, blonde with blue eyes.” And I knew what she meant. When I was younger my idol was Hilary Duff! I remember wanting blue eyes too. So I think I recognized then that it meant something to people. That it matters. Even recently I’ve experienced things with my dad that were racially charged. Most of the time, though, I try to separate my career from my culture because I don’t want people to judge me based on my looks when they have no idea who I am. And now more than ever, I’m proud of it. But I still need to learn Spanish. [Laughs]
KL: Millennials take a lot of heat for being spoiled and lacking direction. Do you think we get a bad rap?
SG: I think millennials are a hell of a lot smarter than we’re given credit for. We’re more aware than we let on, and more exposed to everything that’s out there in the world, just from growing up on the Web, which is a little scary to think about.
KL: What do you think distinguishes our generation from the ones that came before?
SG: Mainly I think it’s the freedom to express ourselves and be who we are in an unapologetic way. Thanks to the Internet, no matter who you are, you know you’re not alone. Maybe a young boy or girl growing up in the South or wherever is confused and terrified to be who they are because they don’t think it’s right. Now they can see all around them people living free of pain, of hidden agendas, of secrets. I think secrets kill people, I really do. You end up trying to cover up so much of who you are for the sake of your family or whoever, and you think you’re bad for being different. So it’s powerful to see our generation breaking those boundaries and encouraging other people to do the same. There’s a sense of freedom that past generations weren’t able to have.
KL: Who’s your biggest female role model?
SG: Meryl Streep has always been one of my idols because of her elegance and ability to always be true to herself but play these incredibly complex, difficult characters. I love how she carries herself. I feel the same way about Grace VanderWaal, who’s, like, 14 years old. I was at the Billboard Women in Music Awards last year with all these incredible women, but she was just radiant. She had this knowledge and wisdom about her that I wanted for myself. Oh, and I really love Amal Clooney. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve read a lot about her. She’s just incredible, the way she speaks and what she fights for. I guess I’m a bit all over the place.
KL: If you could trade places with any actress from the past, who would it be?
SG: Either Audrey Hepburn or Molly Ringwald in the ’80s. How amazing must that have been? She was a redhead and had freckles and was so incredibly cool. I still want to dress like her in Pretty in Pink.
KL: Do you think 2018 will be a better year than the one we just had?
SG: I’m going to say yes because I believe that for myself. And anyone who knows me knows I will always start with my health and my well-being. I’ve had a lot of issues with depression and anxiety, and I’ve been very vocal about it, but it’s not something I feel I’ll ever overcome. There won’t be a day when I’m like, “Here I am in a pretty dress—I won!” I think it’s a battle I’m gonna have to face for the rest of my life, and I’m okay with that because I know that I’m choosing myself over anything else. I’m starting my year off with that thought. I want to make sure I’m healthy. If that’s good, everything else will fall into place. I don’t really set goals ’cause I don’t want to be disappointed if I don’t reach them, but I do want to work on my music too. My next album has been forever in the making. When people ask me why, I’m honest about it: It’s because I haven’t been ready. I mean, point-blank, I don’t feel confident enough in where my music is yet. If that takes 10 years, then it takes 10 years. I don’t care. Right now I just want to be super intentional with all of the things I’m doing.
This article originally appears in the March 2018 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, and was available on newsstands February 20.
Hair: Danilo for Pantene; makeup: Hung Vanngo for Marc Jacobs Beauty; Manicure: Tom Bachik for OPI; Production: Kranky Produktions. Special thanks to L.A. Powersports, a division of L.A. Motorsports.